Roots and Wings: The Tao of Teaching


Yesterday I received an email from my former student Roger Derrick, which jump-started this post in my mind. Roger wanted to show me some new works in progress. I was astonished to see how far he had come since being in my class. The goal of my teaching is to cultivate each student’s understanding of the underlying principles that inform the decision-making process, giving them the ability to come up with the appropriate course of action in any situation. This approach allows an artist to continue to develop just the way Roger has, through determination, hard work and applied logic.

Teaching is no different than parenting. When people learn that I am a father, the first thing they ask is, “Are your kids artists?” My reply is always, “No, they’re not me! They get to choose their own paths.”

Now, many parents want their children to follow in their footsteps. They want their kids to come back and ask for advice when there are important decisions to make, regardless of their age. Obviously, these parent’s intentions are good. They want what’s best for their children, but they base their counseling on their own priorities. It’s only natural to want what’s best for your offspring! Right? But natural for whom? I raised my children to think for themselves based on understanding and good judgment. I chose to support their interests rather than imposing my own. As a result, they grew up to be independent thinkers, more than capable of making their own life choices. I couldn’t be any prouder or happier of them, regardless of the paths they follow.

My goal as a teacher is the same as my goals as a parent, to allow my students to develop into the best artists they can be, and not a replication of myself. There’s a very famous poem by Dennis Waitley about parenting, entitled “Roots and Wings”. Here’s the poem:

If I had two wishes, I know what they would be
I’d wish for Roots to cling to, and Wings to set me free;
Roots of inner values, like rings within a tree;
and Wings of independence to seek my destiny.
Roots to hold forever to keep me safe and strong,
To let me know you love me, when I’ve done something wrong;
To show me by example, and helps me learn to choose,
To take those actions every day to win instead of lose.
Just be there when I need you, to tell me it’s all right,
To face my fear of falling when I test my wings in flight;
Don’t make my life too easy, it’s better if I try,
And fail and get back up myself, so I can learn to fly.
If I had two wishes, and two were all I had,
And they could just be granted, by my Mom and Dad;
I wouldn’t ask for money or any store-bought things.
The greatest gifts I’d ask for are simply Roots and Wings.

When it comes to teaching art there are two basic approaches:

1)You can teach what you do.

2)You can teach the underlying fundamental principles of understanding.

Those who teach what they do have very specific rules regarding not only technique but what to do in every given situation. In other words a strict edict to follow. Unfortunately this results in students whose work strongly mimics that of their teacher. The better the student, the closer the adherence. Everyone turns into a some version of the master!

I choose the fundamental understanding route. If you know why things work then you have choices in every given situation; you do what you do based on your artistic intent and not anyone else’s. That doesn’t mean I eschew technique. On the contrary, my teaching is very technical because it’s vitally important to have the ability to manifest the choices you’re making.

I love it when no apparent stylistic imprint of myself is evident in the work of a former student. It’s my understanding that Jean Leon Gerome – the great academic painter of the 19th Century and one of the most revered educators of his time – shared the same philosophy. This enabled him to develop students as diverse as Thomas Eakins and William McGregor Paxton. Each of those artists took what they learned and were able to form their own unique personality and point of view.

I thought about the past week, where I had the great privilege of seeing a new show of paintings by my former student, TM Davy, a series of beautiful unique and innovative paintings of horses at the 11R gallery in New York City. I also saw, on Facebook, two great paintings by former students Billy Norrby and Martin Wittfooth. I received an email from Steve Birmbaum, the Assistant Director of Media at SVA. Steve had interviewed another long ago student, Brian Donnelly (aka KAWS), a highly successful Chelsea gallery artist. Steve wrote, “The interview went great and Brian had a lot of wonderful things to say about you and your class during his time at SVA.” A few weeks ago, I learned another of my past students, Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, was developing, for 20th Century Fox Animation, a feature film based on “The Dam Keeper”, his 2015 Academy Award-nominated animated short. The incredible thing about all these artists is that you would never know they all studied with the same teacher. They took their roots and flew to the heavens.

This week my new continuing education classes at the School of Visual Arts will be starting. It’s a perfect opportunity to self-reflect and ask yourself, “Do I follow in someone else’s footsteps or do I want to grow roots and wings?”

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal • Fridays
12:00PM – 6:00PM  • Jan 27 – Apr 21 • 12 Sessions
Register online now for the Friday class or call 212.592.2200.

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal • Saturdays
10:00AM – 4:00PM  • Jan 28 – April 29 • 12 Sessions
Register online now for the Saturday class or call 212.592.2200.

For more information please call the Department of Continuing Education at 212.592.2050 or go to this page on my website.

These classes may also be taken for undergraduate credit. Please call the registrar at 212.592.2200 to register or to find out more information.

A special bonus field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view and analyze some of greatest portraits in the collection will take place on a Sunday afternoon.

 

Where To Draw The Line; Marvin Mattelson’s SVA Summer Drawing Workshop

“Matt-Ellrod-2192"Workshop drawing by Matt Ellrod

G. K. Chesterton once observed, “Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.” For advice on morality you should seek spiritual guidance, but as far as where to draw a line, I think I may be able to help. I will be leading a portrait drawing workshop at the School of Visual Arts here in the heart of New York City from June 6-10.

Workshop drawing by Mandy BisestiWorkshop drawing by Mandy Basesti

In this workshop you will learn to create a portrait drawing using charcoal and white chalk on toned paper. It’s my take on a technique used by the great French draftsman Pierre-Paul Prud’hon in the late 18th and early 19th century. This technique, which actually dates back many hundreds of years prior to Prud’hon, allows you to develop a drawing in much less time than simply drawing on white paper. For that reason many artists such as Sir Anthony Van Dyck and Elizabeth Vigee LeBrun (both of which are currently featured in museum retrospectives here in NYC) have used this technique to save themselves valuable time.

Workshop Drawing by Carole KatzWorkshop Drawing by Carole Katz

Although the technical aspects of making a finished drawing will be covered in great detail, the primary focus of this workshop is learning to see proportions and tones more accurately. This will greatly enhance your ability to not only capture a faithful likeness, but also to better assess values, allowing you to render form more effectively. In class we will be working exclusively from live models. I will be demonstrating and explaining all aspects of my drawing methodology and the underlying concepts that govern my actions. You will come away from the workshop with a deeper understanding and a sound strategy for approaching any subject.

Workshop Drawing by Barry GraysonWorkshop Drawing by Barry Grayson

You will learn how to develop the illusion of three-dimensional form bathed in light and surrounded by air. Whether your goal is to improve your drawing for its own sake, or to enhance your drawing skills as a conduit to further improving your paintings, this workshop will provide you with the tools necessary to draw with more confidence.

Workshop drawing by Paul BeaudoinWorkshop drawing by Paul Beaudoin

Throughout this article you are seeing recent drawings by my workshop students. These drawings were done in approximately one day, not obsessively rendered over a period of either weeks or months. Notice the diversity of stylistic approaches. Rather than dogmatically insisting that my students draw in a particular way, my goal is to assist you in becoming the best possible version of yourself.

Workshop drawing by Pete GrillWorkshop drawing by Pete Grill

On Wednesday, May 11, there will be a Fine Arts Information Session: Painting, Drawing, Sculpture and Printmaking at the School Visual Arts at 133/141 W. 21st Street, room 602C, sixth floor from 6:30 to 8:30 PM. I’ll be there if you have any questions about my drawing workshop or my two-week portrait workshop from August 8-19, or just want to stop by and say hello.

Workshop drawing by Matt EllrodWorkshop drawing by Matt Ellrod

5 Day Realistic Portrait Drawing Workshop
June 6 – 10, 2016 • 9:00AM – 5:00PM
Find out more information about this workshop
Register online or call 212.592.2200

11 Day Realistic Portrait Painting Workshop
August 1 – 12, 2016 • 9:00AM – 5:00PM • No class August 7.
Find out more information about the workshop
Register online or call 212.592.2200
This course may also be taken for credit. Please call the registrar’s office @ 212.592.2200 for more information.

“When you do what you’ve done, you get what you’ve gotten.” Mark Twain

Marvin Mattelson Summer Workshops at SVA@NYC

Edward_Cripps_full

Recent Posthumous Portrait of Edward Cripps by Marvin Mattelson

Contrary to popular belief, doing the same thing over and over doesn’t necessarily make you better. Many great achievers, such as Mark Twain, have echoed this same sentiment. For example, the writer/philosopher Rita Mae Brown has stated, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

If you want to become a better painter, you need to transform the way you think about making paintings. Simply put, the idea of going to a workshop and picking up a trick or two is not going to make a significant difference in the quality of the work you do. “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading,” cautioned Lao Tzu.

So if doing what you’ve always done isn’t the answer, what is? Wayne Dyer said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” If you want to achieve greatness you need to approach what you do with the same mindset as the greatest painters in history. I have dedicated my life to uncovering the common threads that bind the greatest classical artists, such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velasquez, Van Dyck, Raeburn, Lawrence, DeCamp and Paxton.

This summer I’ll be sharing my observations at the School of Visual Arts in New York City during my one-week portrait drawing workshop and my two-week oil portrait painting workshop. In the past, people have made remarkable progress in a very condensed time period. Your mileage may vary. Hope to see you there.

5 Day Realistic Portrait Drawing Workshop
June 6 – 10, 2016
Find out more information about this workshop
Register online or call 212.592.2200

11 Day Realistic Portrait Painting Workshop
August 1 – 12, 2016 – No class August 7.
Find out more information about this workshop
Register online or call 212.592.2200
This course may also be taken for credit. Please call the registrar’s office @ 212.592.2200 for more information.

Edward_Cripps_hs

Marvin Mattelson’s New York City Portrait & Figure Painting Classes

Continuing Education Classes At the School of Visual Arts

Portrait class in Marvin Mattelson's studio at SVA.

Portrait class in Marvin Mattelson’s studio at SVA.

Once again I’ll be teaching two classes at SVA in NYC for the fall semester on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information about the courses you can check out my site: www.fineartportrait.com. My goal is not only to make my students better painters but to transform the way they think. Here’s a couple of quotes from former students.

I thank Marvin most of all for the recent growth I have seen in my own art. His ability to communicate his knowledge of painting to students is, in my mind, unsurpassed.
Matthew Innis

It seems you’ve developed into the kind of instructor we all wish we’d had early on. I like your kid-in-the-candy-store enthusiasm for what you are teaching. Even the things I was already familiar with you presented so concisely that it made me know it better. The whole experience was well worth the time, effort and money. Not everyone can be fun and serious. It’s a synergistic mix.
Jeff Ott

Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting • FPC-2010-CE
Fridays • 12:00PM – 6:00PM • 12 sessions • First class: Sept. 25, 2015
Click here to register online for the Friday class.

Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting • FPC-2010-CE1
Saturdays • 10:00 AM – 4:00PM • 11 Sessions • First class: Sept. 26, 2015
Click here to register online for the Saturday class.

These courses may also be taken for undergraduate credit. For information call the Registrar’s Office (212) 592.2200.

I will be attending a fine art information session on Monday August 24 at 133/141 West 21st Street, room 602C, 6th floor, from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM. Please stop by and say hello.

Marvin Mattelson’s Foundation Painting Class at SVA

Award Winning Painting Student Mary Searless

Marvin_Mary

Marvin and Mary Searless

 

Can any thrill compare to that of being a proud parent? When my sons were growing up, the amount of pride I took from even their smallest achievements far eclipsed whatever I experienced from my own. It was gratifying to feel that I might have contributed to their successes, even it happened to be in the smallest of ways. Now that my sons have grown and flown the nest I no longer have the opportunity to experience their achievements on a daily basis. Fortunately, teaching allows me to share the knowledge I’ve been cultivating my entire life and to watch it utilized by my students in their artistic pursuits. To this day, when a student takes anything I’ve told them and manifests it in a constructive way, I get a tremendous sense of satisfaction.

One of the classes I teach at the School of Visual Arts in New York is Foundation Painting. Each class is run at the discretion of the teacher. My approach is a pretty rigorous training program for kids right out of high school. This past year’s class was great. My students were very talented, extremely motivated and hard working. What more could a teacher ask for? They really bought into my methodology and applied themselves whole heartedly. The Foundation Painting class is unique in that it spans a full school year. It’s a two semester class, while all my other classes are one semester long. The extended time frame gives me the opportunity to bring the students around more slowly and reinforce all the various aspects of my teaching.

My goal is to give the students as thorough an understanding of the technique of oil painting and more importantly, of how to control the illusion of light, solidity, depth and atmosphere. It’s important to me that what they learn dovetails with their own intrinsic artistic identity. I want them to develop their own style, and not be clones of myself.

Elisa_Karjalainen2

Class painting by Elisa Karjalainen

 

In class we work exclusively from live models. I think it’s important that my students experience the spacial aspects of reality, so in the future they know how to integrate these effects if they need to work from photo reference. During the first semester we focus on working from the nude, starting with charcoal drawings to learn better accuracy. Then we move on to doing wash-in (imprimatura) monochromatic under-paintings. From there we go to color mixing and ultimately, building up layers of color to achieve the finished effects. For the second semester we work from a costumed figure and eventually transition to a complex two figure set-up with props and drapery (see the above painting by Elisa Karjalainen which was painted this semester). The students are also required to create paintings on their own as homework assignments.

At the end of the year the school holds a Foundation Painting exhibit. The work was juried from over 300 students. Each was permitted to submit one painting. When I walked into the studio I was stunned to see that out of all those those submissions only 22 were selected to hang in the gallery and be eligible for award consideration. I thought it was astounding that out of all those students, five of mine had been included in the show and that my student,  Mary Searles, had been awarded the medal for third place. The chair of the Fine Arts Department, Suzanne Anker, was at the opening and was extremely complimentary about the quality of the work my students had produced. It was a great night.

I’m very proud to present the paintings here:

Mary_Searless

Mary Searless – Third Place Medal Winner

 

Mayerling-Soto

Mayerling Soto

 

Kaitlynanne-Russo

Kaitlynanne Russo

 

Gene_Zhao

Gene Zhao

 

Elisa_Karjalainen

Elisa Karjalainen

 

Now if that wasn’t gratifying enough, I just received the following notification. At the end of each semester every student is asked to rate their teacher’s performance. On the form there’s an option to anonymously comment and I wanted to share what one student wrote:

Marvin is an extremely well rounded artist, if that’s even a valid term. I am thankful for what I learned in this class, and I will keep it with me for as long as I live. Learning traditional painting techniques was one of the best things I participated in this school year.

It just doesn’t get better than that.

Until next time…